Not quite 76 trombones filled the stadium at Sumner High School on Saturday, and although 110 cornets were not close behind, you could count at least 487 band and color guard members from 11 high schools from across the state competing in the fifth annual Sunset Festival of Bands field show.
They came to march and play from Auburn, Bonney Lake, Chimacum, Yakima, Enumclaw, Silverdale, Spokane, Wenatchee, Sultan, Sumner and Lacey.
In the morning they played for judges, who offered comments and advice. In the afternoon they played for judges again, this time for scores.
A crowd of perhaps 1,000 spectators came and went, cheering and listening, as each band took its allotted 15 minutes.
“No other festival around here gives the kids an opportunity to speak with the judges,” said Peggy Longnecker, chief organizer of the event.
“We created it to become different, to create a different atmosphere,” she said.
Her son Mason, a 2010 Sumner High graduate and now a junior at the University of North Dakota, organized the first Sunset Festival as part of his senior project.
He plays drums.
“Sumner musically is one of the best bands in the state,” he said between performances on the field.
“That first year, we had five bands,” he said.
His project earned an A.
“My friends and I in band went to other competitions, and it just spurred ideas,” he said. “We’d all talked about it, that it would be real cool. I just decided to do it. I can’t believe it’s grown to what it is.”
“I tried to talk him out of it,” said Peggy. “He was 17. I thought it was an awful big piece to pull off. There’s a lot that goes into putting this on.”
In the morning, the visiting players and their accompanying parents established an encampment in a staging area near the entrance to the football field. From vans and trailers they unloaded their xylophones and timpani; they assembled camping canopies and unfolded folding chairs; they lit barbecues.
Before their individual band performances, the musicians, color guards and drum majors huddled. They then assembled at the head of the field, nervously marching in place, with the plumage on their hats – fancy hats resembling those worn by Austro-Hungarian military officers a century ago – rustling in a breeze.
They carried those trombones and cornets along with clarinets, saxophones, flutes, trumpets, drums and shiny brass-belled sousaphones.
These marching bands did more than march on Saturday.
Some staged elaborate scenarios to accompany the music. North Thurston High of Lacey staged a story containing an Evil Queen and Snow White. Sultan saluted James Bond, Eisenhower of Yakima remembered “Les Miserables,” and Bonney Lake offered an homage to “The Lord of the Rings” – for which it won first-place honors among the smaller schools.
For Auburn Mountainview it was Big Bands, with songs including “April in Paris,” “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood.” Chimacum went “In Search of Treasure” with a look at “Hook” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Host Sumner offered a presentation called “Fascinating Rhythms,” with selections including “Swing, Swing, Swing” and a medley of “Ol’ Man River” and Cab Calloway’s “Old Black Magic.” Wenatchee sparked larger-school first-place honors with a look at “Wildfire.”
The teams were judged on their musicianship as well as their visual presentation.
“How were the judges affected? How is the crowd affected? How does the performance come together?” said judging coordinator Teena Dwyer-Bailie of Bonney Lake.
The bands each paid a $250 entrance fee to perform, and the fees covered the cost of the professional judges, said Peggy Longnecker.
“The kids get to go to a lot of things,” said Lori Bates, whose son Trevor, a flutist, is a junior at Sumner High.
Bates volunteered at Saturday’s event, acting as a parent-concierge to help one of the out-of-town teams.
“It’s good to see a band with a good reputation,” she said. “It’s fun to see the kids have fun. We’re all looking forward to the Auburn competition.”
That’s the next step, the most prestigious area marching-band competition, held in conjunction with Auburn’s Veterans Day celebration.
After that, for the Sumner band, it’s a trip to Disney World for a performance on Thanksgiving Day.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535